Saturday, 13 July 2019

TJs Pizza & Curry in a Hurry: A Smart Move

"I didn't know your name was Tajinder!" I have known Goldie for over six years now and I had no idea.

"How did you get the name Goldie?" She held up her arms and laughed as she shook her many gold bracelets. Good answer, and perhaps it's as simple as that, but I prefer to think that someone long ago noticed her naturally bright and shiny personality and her new pet name stuck.

The question came up last Wednesday when my friend, Janis Ramsay, and I popped into Goldie's new food enterprise on Bell Farm Road. I want to say that Janis and I get together for these little restaurant outings quite often but I see that our last luncheon was in 2015! With so many cool places to eat in Barrie, we better pick up the pace.

We both wondered aloud at the name for the new venture, TJ's Pizza & Curry in a Hurry. I guessed that the letter T stood for Tiffins Curry in a Hurry, their previous and highly successful restaurant near Five Points in Barrie - but what about that J? Janis brilliantly assumed that the letters represent Tiffins Junior. We were both wrong.

Kay, Goldie's husband, business partner and the gifted master of spice and flavour, told us that TJ was yet another nickname for Tajinder, aka Goldie. Aha!

These folks know what they are doing. In early 2013, I was working for a short-lived food tourism outfit and as I reached out to the downtown eateries ahead of a planned restaurant tour, Goldie was the very first one to reply. In fact, I believe she got back to my mass emailing in fifteen minutes. Goldie has always been quick to jump on board with anything that would bring attention to their business with little or no cost - social media, handing out free food during Promenade Days, community cable television, inviting fledgling food bloggers in (me) and taking a chance of some unknown food tour thing (also me!)

For a decade, Goldie and Kay operated out of the smallest of spaces in an 1870's era building near the corner of Dunlop St. E. and Bayfield St. The dining room was cozy and adorable. The kitchen was so incredibly small that Kay actually avoided hiring any assistants of larger stature as they wouldn't be able to fit in there together!!

Over the years, Tiffins Curry in a Hurry developed a huge following of regulars. With the ever bubbly Goldie up front and Kay performing his culinary wizardry in the back, they were the ideal pair to grow this small Indian restaurant in a town that had only recently begun to sample a wider range of ethnic cuisines.

I was as surprised as anyone when I learned that they were going to be leaving their lovingly established downtown venue and migrating up to the wilds of north central Barrie ... aaaaaand they were going to be serving pizza. What?

With their tiny shop successful and operating at capacity, Goldie and Kay began to think of moving. Parking was not always convenient for their guests although the loyalists would somehow find a way to get their Tiffins food fix. Several times their front window was damaged. The signs for change were there.

When they learned that a long running pizza place was relocating from its spot at 20 Bell Farm Road, they jumped. So what to does an Indian restaurant do with a massive pre-existing pizza production set-up? I bet you can guess.

Curry and pizza is not as crazy as it sounds.  Welcome to the world of fusion cuisines. You're already doing it anyway. Had any fish tacos, perogy poutine, or chicken and waffles lately? Note also that Tiffins old location is now home to a pho and sub sandwich house. Exactly.

With Georgian College within walking distance, this new location will be a big hit with the many South Asian students and residents in the area. The faithful fans have also found their way up to Bell Farm Road as well and are loving the ample parking. The food and friendly service is just as it was on Dunlop St. E. No change there.

Chef Kay is still adjusting to having so much room to work. The counter tops are many and the storage space is limitless. After creating his flavourful masterpieces in box-like space with only pivoting room, this must seem like cooking in the middle of a ballroom.

A major difference is that this is a take-out business and not a restaurant with seating. (Goldie hinted that she won't miss washing dishes.) That didn't stop Janis and I from setting ourselves up in a small nook where customers usually wait for their orders.

We started with some lovely samosas. These yummies are common in India and vary greatly region to region. Guess what - samosas are a Middle Eastern food that was blended into the Indian diet during the spread of Islam a thousand years ago. Still think fusion cuisine is a new thing?

Janis hasn't been into Indian food for long but is an enthusiastic fan now! She enjoys that super popular creation of a dish, butter chicken. Almost exactly like the birth story of the chicken wing in Buffalo, (check it out some time), butter chicken was invented purely by accident in the mid 20th century by a chef desperate to make a meal out of leftover ingredients.

I tend to fall into food ruts. By that, I mean that when I find something really, really good on a menu, I order it every single time. Muskoka Benedict at the Dunlop Diner. Halibut dinner at Fancy's. The Prime black bean burger at Kenzinton  Burger Bar. Chana masala at Tiffins.

This time, I told Chef Kay to surprise me with something from their vegetarian menu. The vegetables, the protein, cashew sauce versus coconut sauce - it mattered little to me because I knew it was going to be fabulous. Goldie asked me if I still prefer a mild taste. Actually, I am experimenting with a little more heat these days but not to the level of their famously fiery phaal curry

The chef did not disappoint. Janis' butter chicken with naan bread and my creamy dreamy veggie delight with colourful basmati rice both disappeared. The food, the service and the company were unparalleled anywhere. The pizza end isn't fully up and running yet. I know of two girls who like to write, and eat, who will be back!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Casa Mia in Barrie: Pasto Perfetto!

Driving home from visiting my mother, we passed Casa Mia on Dunlop St. W. and Ron suddenly remembered two things. He was hungry and that he'd had a gift card for Casa Mia sitting on his dresser since Christmas.

We returned as soon as we retrieved the gift card and went in not long after the restaurant opened at 4 o'clock. A table of four were the only other guests inside.

Mediterranean music complimented the old world decor of wood and plaster, tile, columns, frescoes and statuettes, while a pleasant and slightly garlicky aroma filled the air.  The hostess quickly seated us at a south facing window and very soon after, we were greeted by our server who must be one of the sweetest and most enthusiastic wait staff I have met anywhere.

Corinne, and I hope I have spelled your name correctly, is the brand ambassador every business dreams of. It was apparent that our good time was her number one objective, and not only because it was her job but because she genuinely believed in the fare she was serving, and truly wanted us to be happy.

Corrine was surprised to hear that we were first-timers. Casa Mia must have a lot of regular visitors! She explained all the specials and side options, then eagerly pointed out her own favourite dishes on the menu. She easily sold us on two of them, Greek Village Chicken and Linguine Pacifico. We are always on the hunt for a fantastic caesar salad and so ordered two of those to start, and a nice glass of white wine.

The salads were very nice. Light but tangy and flavourful, not like some of the watery bland affairs we have encountered elsewhere.

Two amazing platters soon followed. They were unlike any plates I have seen to date in Barrie - hearty, artful and uniquely presented.

Ron's Greek Village Chicken was described to us as a chicken parmigiana with the addition of  spinach. The sides of roasted potato and mixed veg sounded nice but not necessarily exciting. However, what he received was so much more than what was expected. At Casa Mia, they sauce and cheese all items on the plate, then bake it, which was a delicious surprise!

Mixed vegetables in most standard restaurants often means a small pile of unseasoned steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Healthy but boring. Casa's was all that and more, roasted, sauced and cheesed, and Ron was actually giddy to find a beet in his veg selection!

My plate was so beautifully presented! Large tiger shrimps and calamari pieces were swirled into a tall mound of saucy pasta and surrounded by a crown of mussels in the shell.

The tomato sauce in our dishes, house made I'm told, was just lovely. Smooth, light and not at all acidic. I am not a big red sauce fan normally but Casa Mia's sauce was a delight.

Naturally, we had no room left for dessert but we treated ourselves to the next best thing, something we had not sampled in years - a specialty coffee from the bar! Ron ordered a B52 coffee and kept it slightly simpler with a Bailey's coffee. Our drinks were decadent and just what we needed to top off a perfect meal!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

They Say You Can Never Trust a Skinny Chef

Happy New Year! I have been rather absent from my Curious Nibbler persona lately but not for any particular reason. Life just gets busy - work, volunteer roles, family etc. but I still love my adventures in food. In fact, you will see that I have moved myself into the 21st century with the purchase of a (once dreaded) cell phone and found that Instagram is a fantastic medium.

Something else is new though. I am working on a project, one that aims to shatter the meme that says "never trust a skinny chef." That project is me. 

One year ago tomorrow, for whatever inexplicable reason, I awoke feeling like I deserved better. Coincidentally or otherwise, January 6 is the date of Epiphany on the Christian calendar, the day that the three Wise Men encountered that special baby. An epiphany can also be defined as a moment of sudden revelation that changes you in some way.

I woke up that morning feeling unhealthy and depressed. My joints hurt, my clothes were strangling me, mirrors and scales were my enemies and I was sick of it. I deserved to be happy and healthy and I decided that I was going to do something about it.

I am a veteran of Weight Watchers (in 2 different countries), T.O.P.S. and Herbalife, all of them multiple times. Lost hundreds of pounds over several decades. I should be below my birth weight by now. I have realized that in every one of those fun (not) exercises in deprivation I was doing it for anyone but me - my family, my friends, society at large, or the sweet lady manning the scale who clapped when I lost a pound.

This time had to be different. For years, I had avoided any attempts at losing the excess weight mostly because I feared another failure.

So I made a plan. First, I picked a reasonable number as my target weight, a number I had been at before, something attainable and maintainable, and keeping in mind that I am not twenty years old and that I have given birth to five big beautiful babies in my life.

I gave myself a year to get to that number. I also told no one. This was my little secret. Sometimes, when you announce that you want to lose weight, well-meaning people like to remind you that perhaps you "shouldn't be eating that" and put extra guilt/pressure on you. I was possibly twenty pounds lighter or more before people began to ask if I was losing weight.

I decided to be kind and reasonable with myself. I would not do anything "nutty" or, in other words, no fad diets, weight loss groups or services, fasting, cleanses, pills, surgeries or meal plans. Just good and tasty food because I deserve that. If I want a few slices of pizza now and then, I will have them.

I hate gyms. I joined one once and only went a handful of times. What a waste of money. Gyms are just not for me and I know this so there is little point in me signing up at one. What do I like? Walking. I'm pretty good at it too - been doing it since I was ten months old, so I heard.

The beauty of walking is that almost all of us can do it. You need no special equipment, you can go any time you want and it costs nothing. Sometimes I add music, (another benefit to the once hated cell phone idea), and I am propelled along by some very cool 80s dance tracks! Other times, I leave the headphones at home and enjoy the sound of the birds or the wind in the trees.

You are wondering what I ate, right? I only ate food that I like. This is a key factor for anyone who wants to get healthy and lose any weight that is holding them back from living a full life - you will not succeed in the long term (or possibly short term) if you eat stuff that is "good for you" but tastes like crap.

Kale? Nope. Spring mix salads? Nope. I hate those things therefore I'm not going to eat them. You have to find foods that are good for you and that also taste good to you personally. They are out there.

Do you cook? You really need to put the effort in to learn how to prepare some really delicious meal items for yourself, again because you deserve this! I don't mean five star cheffy things, but simple yummy stuff that you can prep ahead and look forward to having when you come home tired and hungry. You might be surprised to learn that professional chefs are bad at this. Who wants to cook when they have cooked all day at work? Not meeeee.

I have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet for about six years now. That does not necessarily lead to an automatic healthy weight. It certainly didn't in my case. I know that I was not keeping track of my protein intake properly, and that carbohydrates were making up waaaaaay too much of my diet. I do much better with those things now.

Junk food was my crack cocaine. I ate a lot of chips, crackers and other salty/crunchy things. Every day. Those things were hard to give up but instead of thinking of their absence as a deprivation, I turned it around that they were an addiction that was killing me. I also turned to sunflower seeds and nuts instead, things that let me have my crunch and flavour treat but also add fiber and protein value to my diet.

I also gave up 90% of the bread that I ate. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Everybody talks about the evil of carbs but I don't know that they are terrible for everyone. I just know that I was eating far too much bread, and living on sandwiches to a great extent, so for me personally, walking away from bread made a big difference. Maybe once a week, I will have a veggie burger or pizza. Saying "never again" to a particular food item often leads to those old feelings of deprivation, craving and falling completely off the wagon.

So what do I really eat? Everybody has to find things that suit their personal taste, living situation, budget, medical status etc., so what I eat is not going to be what you eat. Breakfast for me can be fruit and cheese (my faves are grapes and smoked gouda), cereal and fruit (Fiber One with dried apricots), a high protein (30 g.) shake, or maybe a veggie omelette. Lunch could be a caesar salad with crab or shrimp, a homemade soup (butternut squash is my go-to), or one of my Indian style stews (crushed tomato, coconut milk, curry spices, assorted frozen veg and a soy based protein or chick peas).

I like to bake some fish ( Highliner Pan-Sear Selects are so good!) with veg drizzled in olive oil, create a filling lentil shepherd's pie or make an eggplant parmigiana for dinner. Nutritious and delicious things are a must. Why? Because (and keep telling yourself this) you deserve to be healthy and feel good, and also to enjoy your meals.

Above all, be good to yourself. Be patient and forgiving. Make small goals for yourself. Take small bites out of the apple, if you will forgive the food analogy, and look for losses of a pound here and there rather than looking at a big and overwhelming number. Aim for XXX pounds by Easter, for example, as a mini goal. Give yourself a tiny reward when you get there. New walking shoes, yoga pants or consider that FitBit you have been wanting.

I decided last year that I don't necessarily want to extend my life, but I want to live while I am alive, if that makes any sense. I want to dance with my daughter and hike with the boys, I want to wear the pretty clothes and give depression the boot, I want to have more energy to work and play, have more confidence, try new things and generally live well.

So (drum-roll please) I hit my goal ahead of schedule this past November 27th. To achieve my target, I lost the obscurely uneven sounding number of 57 pounds. I truly amazed myself. Never before I have I done something like this by myself and for myself.

What's next? Christmas put 3 pounds back on my frame but I'm not panicking (as I would have in the past) because I will soon rectify that. I am looking forward to the return of warm weather when I can really get walking again, without the fear of falling on my butt on an icy sidewalk. How I love my walks down to our beautiful  lake shore where I can soak away my cares in the cool waters of Kempenfelt Bay. I may even wear a two piece bathing suit this year. Wink.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Nino's Italian Restaurant: Just like Famiglia

Restaurants come and go. Many open up to great fanfare only to close their door two years later. I can think of a few places that I really liked, that operated for a number of years but then disappeared - Hobo's (later Bellamy's) located where Fabricland is now on Bayfield Street, Friends, Neighbours, and Ruby Bigonia's (all three owned by the same group), the Merriman (Hooters present location) and Reggie's Sandwich Factory on Dunlop Street East. Then there are the plodders, the slow horses in the race, just moving steadily along, serving quality food every day to regular customers in simple surroundings. Nothing flashy, just authentic food and excellent service. When you are still in the game four decades later, I think you can be declared a winner.

Nino's Italian restaurant is definitely a winner. If you Google Nino's, you get this fitting description, "Unpretentious Italian joint with familiar fare like chicken parmigiana and spaghetti since 1973." I wish I had written that. It occurred to me, while we were waiting for our meals, that people who lived in Barrie when it was a small city of about 27,000 would only have had two or three places to order a pizza from in those days. Today, there must be a hundred places where you can buy so-called Italian take-out food in the area. Yet Nino's keep plodding along, unperturbed by 2-4-1 deals, stuffed crusts, pretzel dough, crazy bread or trendy toppings.

So, a few months back, I treated my husband, Ron, to dinner at Nino's. He is big on Italian food and we had never been to Nino's before. I know, I know! The brick building sits nearly alone, as it always has, at 298 Blake Street, although a Tim Horton's has recently moved next door. It must have been a bit of a gamble at the time to start a restaurant so far away from the main areas of business in Barrie.

The exterior says 1970s Italian to me. The bricks and the arches over the windows remind me very much of the homes built by Italian immigrants in the very multicultural area where I grew up in that
era. Inside, the arched brickwork continues. The dining room is very neat and orderly. It has clearly been updated not too long ago but it still has that retro feel.

Nino himself has handed over his apron to his son, Luigi, now. It is fantastic to know that the restaurant he and his wife, Rosa, started all those years ago is still family run. Nino, who learned his craft in Italy, built his business on fine house made pasta, stone baked pizza and an assortment of sumptuous dishes like lasagna and manicotti. The tradition continues today.

So what did I have? On the way in, I spied the special of the day written on a chalk board - mushroom ravioli. I ordered that along with a caesar salad and some nice cheesy garlic bread to start. Ron chose lasagna. A nice glass of white house wine and a complimentary basket of fresh Italian bread completed the meal perfectly. Or did it? Couldn't help ourselves - got some dreamy tiramisu for dessert as well!

I should mention that our server was just wonderful too. I didn't get her name but she reminded me of my Italian friend, Salvina, just so warm and earthy. I watched her take care of her regulars just like extended family. Brava!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Dairy Queen: Keeping Barrie Cool Since 1959

My father was a hard working man and my mother didn't drive. At the end of a long, hot summer day, the kids were all begging for a swim somewhere but Dad would have preferred just to put his feet up. Understandable. But once in a while, we prevailed and the station wagon was loaded up with the customary towels, buckets and shovels, the old plastic webbing type folding chairs and the bathing caps that I hated so much.

What a joy it was to splash about in the cool lake water and then dig deep holes in the sand. We created some very elaborate sandcastles, surrounding them with long, snaking moats and topping the parapets with flags fashioned out of discarded drinking straws. The fun was eventually ended either by a wave of Dad's arm or by the beginning of a thunderstorm.

We packed up and drove away feeling refreshed and just a bit hungry, and we all hoped that Dad would say the most magical words of all. "You don't want to stop here and get a hamburger, do you?" He always asked this question at the last minute, just as it looked like we were about to drive right past Dairy Queen. I tell you, to a bunch of soaking wet kids straight out of a lake, after an hour or two of fresh air and horseplay, these were the best burgers ever! Wet bathing suit, sandy feet and a charbroiled DQ hamburger eaten in the back of Pontiac Laurentian  station wagon - what a great memory. So the answer to Dad's question, as if anyone doubted it, was always a very loud yes!

Recently, I took advantage of Barrie's fantastic waterfront and took a dip in Kempenfelt Bay. One hot afternoon seemed like the perfect day. The white board at the life guard station read Welcome to Centennial Beach. Weather: Sunny 41 C. Water: 25 C. I waded into the sparkling water with two of my grown sons and we all agreed that it was a great day to be a citizen of Barrie. We took a moment to consider where the water's edge used to be (pre 1967) just below the new condominium towers, and to acknowledge the brilliant thinkers and planners who made this jewel their Centennial project.

Centennial Park just keeps on getting better too. Have you checked out the new boardwalk? We stopped and ate a picnic lunch under a shady tree before our swim. Yes, yes, I know - Mom says no swimming for an hour after you eat! Our time in the lake was more splashing and floating than full-on swimming. Olympians we are not.

After that, we decided to do something daring. Well, daring for me that is. I am a self-confessed chicken and never attempt anything remotely dangerous, but kayaking looked to me like something even I could do. So we took a walk down to the Happy Paddling boat and board rental trailer and signed up to give it a go. What a blast! The coolest (by any definition of the word) activity to do, in the scorching city of Barrie today, was to paddle a kayak straight through the mist of the Rotary Fountain at Centennial Park.

How do you cap off a perfect summer day? The same way as always, of course - with a visit to DQ. You would never know it, because she had a face-lift not long ago, but this Queen has been serving up goodies on the corner of Bradford and Vespra Streets since 1959. Everything from the counter and walls inside, to the signage, and the the painted yellow lines in the parking lot are freshly done and new. But the shop and parking lot are still as small as they ever were, which somehow seems nice to me. Maybe it is nostalgia talking, but to me nothing says says summer more than seeing the door of a DQ propped open to allow the queue of ice cream and burger seekers to spill out onto the sidewalk.

So today, we each got a strawberry cheesecake Blizzard. Oh my stars, who invented this? What evil genius decided to combine little chunks of cheesecakey goodness with gooey-sweet strawberry syrup and swirl it into ice cream? We certainly savoured our little after beach treat here, as so many, many other Barrie folks have in the last 58 years in this place.

From those early days of banana splits and dipped cones, Dairy Queen seems to get better and better too. Remember when the Dennis the Menace gang were on all the DQ advertising, and by saying scrumpdillyishus would get you a 49 cent peanut buster parfait? Well, now you can even find poutine in Canadian DQs too. It would seem that the familiar favourites still remain while the new food items just cozy up to the old ones on the menu board. Sounds brilliant to me. So tell me about your good memories, what yummy treat have brought you down to the DQ on Bradford Street over the years?


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Summer Time in the City: New Fun Things to Try (and Eat) in Barrie

I love water! I like to be in it, on it, near it, whether it be sea or lake, as the cool blue of a body of water refreshes me in both body and soul. When I read that Barrie was getting a new water attraction this summer, I was pretty excited. Splash On Water Park sounded fantastic!

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a self-confessed chicken and that most roller coasters and amusement park rides scare the daylights out of me. So Splash On, with its soft, brightly coloured bouncy platforms, looked to me like something even this recycled teenager, with scaredy cat tendencies, could do. So I went.

My husband, and son and I went down to Centennial Park one finally thunderstorm-free evening. Looking out at the water park a few yards from the beach, we could see a swarm of young kids clambering all over the structure. They were obviously enjoying the sunny late afternoon fun, and their parents were enjoying the cheaper after 5 p.m. admission price.

We signed up, paid up and got our wrist bands and life jackets. Off we went, swimming out into the bay, which had reached a swimmable temp in time for mid August, as is typical of this deep part of the lake. We climbed aboard the inflatable structure and I immediately learned 2 things. The park is far more wobbly than I imagined and much slipperier!

Very soon after this, and after several unexpectedly rapid dunks in the lake, I began to think that I might just be a little too old for this. Maybe. Just maybe. My theory is that if a 10 year old falls down 50 times, they will get up and run around laughing and jumping with no ill effects, but if a 50 year old falls down 10 times, they may not be able to go to work tomorrow.

My back told me that I should perhaps just stay in the lake next time I wiped out, and I listened. I enjoyed a nice dip in Kempenfelt Bay and got plenty of entertainment from the antics of the kids, jumping and hollering like kids should do in the summer. After my own 23 year old kid had had enough, we decided to go for a burger.

Our plan was to have dinner at the beach outpost of Kenzington Burger, but we didn't realize that they had opted not to open for the 2017 season due to the construction happening around Centennial Park this year. The near finished product looks great, by the way!

Not to worry, Barrie's inventory of fun dining establishments is endless, and we quickly had a Plan B in mind - State & Main in the new shopping plaza at Cundles and Duckworth.

Nothing like a swim to make you ravenous! After changing into dry clothes at home, the three of us headed over to State & Main, part of a young chain of Canadian restaurants with a rather American sounding name.

We knew that a dear family friend had started working at State & Main, and we saw her walk across the patio as we parked our car. Of course, we just had to ask the hostess to seat us in Della's section!

What a great menu! If you have read a few of my blog posts, you will remember that I am a quasi-vegetarian. A lot of the time, my choices are limited to a veggie burger or fish and chips. At State & Main, I was actually torn between a number of wonderful-sounding dishes - Long Beach fish tacos, jalapeno mac and cheese, Pacific Rim noodle bowl. In the end, I chose the applewood salmon club.

So this is no ordinary diner clubhouse. Nope. Described as oven roasted applewood salmon, served on a toasted brioche bun, with roasted red pepper aoli, lettuce, tomato, peppered bacon, and fresh avocado, it sounded fabulous. Bonus: most menu items come with 2 sides! I picked quinoa salad and fries with dill dip.

The boys had heard tales of a legendary grilled cheese burger and never really considered any other options. They both chose fries with dill dip and caesar salads. My husband later got some bonus bacon strips after I removed them from my sandwich. (Crazy vegetarians!)

The plates were beautifully presented. Each white rectangular platter arrived with neatly placed and garnished colourful food items. Everything was prepared perfectly from the light golden touch on the grilled cheese burger buns, and the well-baconed caesar salads, to the tempting quinoa and the most finely shredded, bright green lettuce I have ever seen on a sandwich.

How can you tell if I or my family thoroughly enjoyed our meal? If we are already trying to figure out how to recreate it at home, it must have been a hit. What is in that dill dip anyway? Is it mayo, sour cream and fresh dill? I must have this for all of my french fries in the future! I guess we will be buying some loaves of un-sliced white bread very soon, because a grilled bread bun definitely trumps a plain burger bun. (Apologies for saying trump - ugggh.)

 Casual fine dining meets bar at State & Main in northeast Barrie. Dating couples, young dudes having beer and wings, celebrators of granddad's birthday, slightly damp post water park diners all enjoyed the vibe on the patio as the sun set over Little Lake. Give it a whirl. Ask for Della!

Player's Diner Slips into the History Books

In the days before the internet, if you were looking for a new job, you checked the back pages of the Barrie Examiner and looked in the want ads in the classified section. If you wanted to be quick off the mark, you picked up a copy of the paper at Player's on Dunlop St. because this shop was first in town to get the Examiner every day as it was printed just around the corner at 16 Bayfield St. I am sure that I found more than one job that way myself.

I wonder how many passersby never knew that there was a little diner in the back half of the store, or how many others popped in for cigarettes or a greeting card and were surprised to find a row of stools and little tables, high-schoolers with their Coke and fries, downtown shoppers taking a break for coffee and pie.

For the better part of a century, a smoke shop stood on this spot at 20 Dunlop St. E. Many remember it as the United Cigar Store with its unforgettable wooden Indian statue out front. I have often heard it mentioned but never saw it. I suppose the figure would almost be considered politically incorrect these days, but in the past it was a common symbol of a tobacconist just like the barber's red and white pole was a symbol of his trade.

By the 1970s, the name above the door was Player's. When I first remember it, the colour of the sign was teal blue, the same shade as the packaging of my brand of smokes (oh yes, I did), Player's Light cigarettes. Was the store named after the brand? I still wonder about that. I am pretty sure that those cigarettes were less than $2.00 back then.

As word spread recently of Player's impending closure, long time Barrie residents took to social media to share their sadness and also their brilliant memories of the last cozy Downtown coffee shop left over from Barrie's small town days.

I remember the juke boxes at the tables. If the song skipped, it was my job to go down and hit the side of the big one in the basement - scary basement! - Sandy O.

I remember my mom taking me there between grades 1 - 4 as a treat. The fries and gravy were the best. I loved being able to sit right at the counter. I felt like a big girl. - Samantha L.

The United Cigar Store ... I would go with my Dad in the early 50s for a grilled cheese ... great memories. - Valerie M.

Jean's pies were awesome! - Mary-Ellen G.M.

It must have been like homecoming week in the final days of Player's Diner. Many nostalgia seekers, myself included, stopped in for one last bite, to reminisce and to say goodbye to Moe, the last owner, who is retiring. Promenade Days was in full swing outside as my husband and I popped into the quiet of the little diner.

Our waitress, (and she really was a waitress in the traditional Mel's Diner sort of way), served us coffee as we scanned the old school, low tech menu above the open kitchen. Toasted western sandwiches. Homemade pie. Cheeseburgers. Liver and onions. (Sorry, but yuck!) Milk shakes. All the old favourites were there.

I ordered a mushroom omelette with home fries and Ron got an egg salad sandwich with fries smothered in gravy. Our food was cooked on a flat top grill and an ordinary household type stove by Moe's wife, Ranjeet. One cook, one server, plastic blue checked table cloths, 7-Up menu board, a phone book and leatherette stools - we will never see the likes of this again in Downtown Barrie.